After seven months of protests, court hearings and two hunger strikes, tenants who were forced to leave their Bowery apartment building in January returned home on Friday.
The owner of 85 Bowery announced on Thursday that the tenants would be able to move back in now that critical repairs to improve the building’s structural integrity are complete and the Department of Buildings has lifted its vacate order.
“Our team has replaced the staircase that initially caused the vacate order, replaced dozens of rotted floor joists on each floor of the building and rectified all issues regarding the unlawful partitions installed under previous ownership,” a spokesman for Bowery 8385 LLC said, adding that new appliances were also installed in the units. “As has been our shared goal from the beginning of this process, 85 Bowery will now be a safe, affordable, quality building for generations to come.”
The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side celebrated the tenants’ return during a ceremony on Friday that featured a lion dance, a form of traditional dance in Chinese culture, as well as speeches from community leaders and a tenant leader.
Nearly 100 people were displaced from 85 Bowery on Jan. 18 after a court-ordered DOB inspection revealed structural damage in the building.
The tenants were initially told they could return in several weeks, but repairs were delayed by asbestos and other complications. As the weeks dragged on, the tenants feared it was all a ploy for the landlord to push them out for good.
Bowery 8385 LLC and the building’s landlord, Joseph Betesh, were involved in an ongoing lawsuit with the tenants over the building’s rent regulated status. The tenants believed they were being pushed out of the building so the units could be converted into market-rate rentals.
A spokesman for Bowery 8385 LLC repeatedly denied those claims, pointing out that the owner was paying for most of the tenants to stay in a Chinatown hotel while repairs were being made.
The dispute came to a crescendo in the spring as the tenants staged two hunger strikes and, on one occasion, Betesh was accused of throwing some of the tenants’ belongings into a dumpster.
In July, however, the warring groups came to an agreement that set an Aug. 31 return date with rent-stabilized leases for the tenants.
“Despite city agencies extending the deadline of their return numerous times and the enormous pressures to compromise and ultimately leave their homes and communities, the tenants remained steadfast and determined,” the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side said in an emailed statement. “Tenants, supporters, and the coalition encourage others who are facing displacement and eviction to fight back and not give in to the pressure to compromise.”